On Friday, Feb. 25 and Saturday, Feb. 26, the Wooster men’s basketball team traveled to Greencastle, Indiana to square off in the NCAC semifinals and championship. On Friday, the Scots secured a dominant 75-59 victory over sixth-seeded DePauw. In the championship game the following day, Wooster fell just short in overtime to Wabash, losing 85-84.
With a spot in the NCAC championship game on the line, both Wooster and DePauw gave it their all, trading blow for blow in the first half. In fact, the second-seeded Scots held just a 25-24 lead with 3:42 remaining in the half. However, determined to have somewhat of a cushion going into halftime, Wooster began to distance itself late in the half. Over the last 3:40, the Scots outscored the Tigers 11-6, highlighted by Nick Everett’s ’24 six points and a Jamir Billings ’25 three-pointer, to take a 36-30 lead going into the locker rooms.
In the second half, the Scots kept the pedal to the metal as they continued to stretch their lead. During the first seven minutes of the half, the Scots progressively built a comfortable lead, at one point holding a 54-38 lead. Though DePauw had staged an upset against third-seeded Ohio Wesleyan, it became clear that the Scots would not relinquish their lead, as they went on to defeat the Tigers by a score of 75-59. Top scorers for the Scots were Brandon Styers ’22 and Elijah Meredith ’24, who collected 19 and 18 points respectively.
On Saturday, the Scots turned their focus to their opponent in the NCAC championship game: the Wabash College Little Giants. Wabash, who, as the number-one seed, hosted both the semifinals and championship, was a formidable opponent. Going into the game, the Little Giants held a 16-1 conference record and an overall record of 24-3. Furthermore, Wabash had defeated Wooster by scores of 94-80 on Sunday, Jan. 30 and 97-75 on Saturday, Feb. 12. However, at times in both these matchups, the Scots had shown that they were competitive against the Little Giants. According to Meredith, the Scots understood the challenge, saying that “we were ready to play the best defense that Wabash has seen all season, but in order to stay in a game with them, we had to make every possession count.”
Since Wabash was the host of the tournament, the Scots knew that they were going into a hostile environment; however, this did not dim their resolve. As Meredith put it, “It was hard to hear each other throughout the game, but those are the best environments to play in. My teammates made a lot of big shots that quieted the crowd down throughout the game.
Wabash has arguably the best student section in the NCAC, and they were relentless the entire game, but it makes it a fun atmosphere to play in.” Despite the raucous atmosphere, Wooster started off strong. Thanks to Jamir Billings ’25 and Najee Hardaway ’22 scoring five points each in the early minutes, the Scots jumped out to a 18-13 lead with 13:33 to go in the first half. The Little Giants fought back as the half wore on.
Over the next 90 seconds, Wabash tied the game at 18 thanks to the Little Giants’ Tyler Watson ’22 connecting on back-to-back shots. For the next four minutes, the Scots and Little Giants matched each other basket for basket. With the game knotted at 27, Wabash’s offense exploded, going on a 12-0 run to take a 39-27 lead with 4:08 to go in the first half. Though the Scots trailed by double digits, they did not give up in the face of adversity. Everett and Hardaway made layups, while Billings made a shot from downtown to make it a 41-34 game; unfortunately for the Scots, Watson answered with a buzzer-beater to extend the Wabash halftime advantage to 43-34.
Though they trailed by nine points at the start of the second half, the Scots proved why they were in the championship game, as a made Meredith jump shot and a pair of Hardaway three-pointers cut the Wabash lead to just one point with 17:18 to go in the game. Fearing a Wooster comeback, Wabash again asserted control, taking a 54-44 lead with 12:20 left in the game. Once again, however, Wooster came back. After slowly chipping away at the Wabash advantage, a Turner Kurt ’23 layup tied the game 66-66 with 3:08 remaining. On the next Wooster offensive possession, Everett made a jump shot to give the Scots their first lead since midway through the first half. However, the lead would not last long, as the Little Giants seized a 73-70 advantage with 57 seconds remaining. Though their prospects seemed grim, Everett stepped up in a big way, making a jump shot through a shooting foul and making the subsequent free throw to tie the game at 73-73. Neither team scored in the remaining 48 seconds, leading to a five-minute overtime period.
Wabash was the first team to strike in overtime, as the Little Giants’ Jack Davidson ’22 made a pair of free throws to make it a 75-73 game. Just 24 seconds later, Meredith responded with a jump shot to tie the game at 75. Wooster once again took a 76-75 lead with 2:49 remaining thanks to Meredith, who made one of two free throws. After an exciting two minutes during which Wooster and Wabash traded buckets, another pair of Davidson free throws gave Wabash a 79-78 lead with 41 seconds left. When the following Wooster possession came up empty, Wabash’s Ahmoni Jones ’23 was fouled and made two more free throws to give the Little Giants a three-point lead. After Kurt rebounded a Styers missed three-point shot, the Scots had one last chance to force another overtime. Hamilton Johnson ’22 attempted another three point shot and was fouled, giving him three free throws with three seconds remaining. Unfortunately for the Scots, Johnson missed his first free throw attempt, sealing the NCAC Championship for the Little Giants.
With the loss, Wooster was unable to extend its 18-year streak of securing a spot in the NCAA Division III tournament. Despite it being the end of the season for the Scots, Meredith’s takeaways were overwhelmingly positive. “I think that the team has a lot to feel good about the season. We had some great wins and lots of good memories made this season,” he said, “I know that this year’s NCAC championship loss will only be motivation for the team next year. We want to win the NCAC championship at home in front of our fans and return to [the] NCAA tournament.”
Congratulations to Wooster’s men’s basketball team for a terrific season and to all the seniors on the team on amazing careers!